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‘Can Musharraf, Benazir trust one another?’

October 09, 2007

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LONDON, Oct 8: Christina Lamb, author of the book ‘Waiting for Allah’ who had covered Pakistan during Benazir Bhutto’s first stint as prime minister for British newspapers has wondered in a despatch for Sunday Times: Can the general and the lady really trust one another?

Ms Lamb recalled in her article, Bhutto: I know my life will be at risk, that on seizing power in October 1999, Musharraf blamed Ms Bhutto more than anyone for Pakistan’s problems. “She had the brains and the opportunity,” he said, swearing that he would never let her return to power.

But according to Ms Lamb by the end of last year, worried by the worsening situation in Pakistan and fed up with years in the political wilderness, Ms Bhutto responded to entreaties from the (British) Foreign Office and the American State Department to open negotiations with Gen Musharraf.

She said that since the Bhutto-Musharraf talks began, the balance of power between them has shifted dramatically. “The president’s attempts to remove the chief justice in March led to nationwide protests by lawyers, and he now needs Bhutto more than she needs him.”

“Musharraf is on his knees,” one of Ms Bhutto’s closest advisers told Ms Lamb.

According to the ST despatch, as recently as last Wednesday the talks were at a stalemate, “But after some hard bargaining they finally reached an agreement on Thursday whereby the cases against Bhutto would be dropped and her safe return guaranteed.”

Ms Lamb said Musharraf had apparently also agreed to set up an interim government to oversee parliamentary elections that must be held by January.

In return, Bhutto’s MPs did not walk out of parliament during Musharraf’s re-election on Saturday, instead abstaining from voting.

Ms Bhutto denies that by remaining in parliament she legitimised the election. “If we had voted for a uniformed president we would be legitimising it. But we refused to vote for a military president and General Musharraf understands that.”

Ms Bhutto does not deny American involvement in the deal, and “admits she held a series of meetings with Richard Boucher, the US assistant secretary of state”.

“I know some people are saying this is an American plan, but my agenda has always been a Pakistan agenda,” the ST despatch quoted Ms Bhutto as saying.

“Since 1977 the US has supported military dictatorship, first General Zia, then Musharraf, so it’s a very welcome development that the US is calling out for democracy and the holding of free and fair elections.”

While Ms Bhutto hopes to become prime minister for a third time, “her husband, widely regarded as a political liability, will stay in Dubai looking after their two daughters”.